WORK 13 / SOCIETY / PLACES

PLACES 01/12 Whether roaming around a city or the countryside I take four-second videos of the vanishing point of every public space where I sit. A total of 180 video clips is collected every month, generating a film of 12 minutes. In this respect, on average I explore a total of six public spaces every day. In this respect this work provides me with a good balance as for it I have to spend a fair amount of time outdoor. When outdoor also I attempt to bring somewhat of a variety to the sequence of places I visit so as not to be monotonous in my filming. I then try to go to different cities or countries. If this is not possible I simply depict the natural landscape around me as it changes with the changing of the seasons. Either way the repetition of certain places in the stream of videos creates a cinematic language that enables the viewers to read through it and eventually also get an insight of the environment in which I have lived. At the end of the project in 2040 the films of public spaces will number 77.760 amounting to 86.5 hours screen time (Fig. Screenshots of videos of public places I took in different countries around the world. As a Russian constructivist I had a first impulse to live and explore different countries. Nonetheless this impulse has been always counterbalanced by the more sedentary life required by the works of my project dealing more with myself).

PLACES 02/12 The work was originally inspired by Andrea Palladio's Olympic Theater, a 16th century building in which the oldest surviving stage set still exists. This stage set comprises of a trompe-l'œil giving the appearance of a long city street. Similarly my idea is to extend the perspective of a corridor by projecting at its end the video of the vanishing point of the public spaces I film. Also the filming of the vanishing point provides me with the ability to know immediately where I should point the camera when I seat in a public place. From the beginning this was not clear to me and I just pointed the camera in front of me without any particular focus. Seating on a hill in the outskirts of Uppsala I suddenly saw a clear perspective point in front of me and realize that in every space I can find one. In this respect also whenever I am walking in a public place and face an interesting vanishing point I seat down to film it, finding the depth of these vanishing points what interest me the most. At times then I even improvise a place where to seat only for the sake of filming an interesting vanishing point (Fig. Picture of my 2009 attempt to show my videos within an architecture, in this case the castle in which the Uppsala Art Museum is located. For the occasion I recreated a vanishing point in the biggest room. The ideal scenario to present these videos would be in places with a stronger perspectives such as a cathedral).

PLACES 03/12 As I only film when in a public places, from the beginning I had to determine what I mean for public place. I then started defining it as any place that any citizen can enter without having to ask permission for it. In this respect I do not film in places where I have to pay a ticket to enter nor in places where I can enter only because I was invited to. Over the years I realized that access to places have been increasingly limited particularly by the transmutation of these places in commercial entities like malls. Overall then this work also represents the increasing extinction of public spaces taken over by commercial enterprises. In this sense I associate the work to August Sander's photography of the city of Cologne prior to its complete destruction in World War II. As for Sander's case my documenting can also anticipate drastic changes ahead such as potentially wars or natural calamities triggered by climate change (Fig. Screenshot showing me filming a newly built place in Milan. Not only these modern places become increasingly more institutional but also the filming within them become more tricky. While these modern places are fully surveilled by cameras 24/7, in some cases they do not wish to be photographed so as not to compromise the money and power handling institutions within them).

PLACES 04/12 While on one hand the resulting videos look like surveillance camera footage, they are in fact premonitions of public spaces on the verge of disappearing. As in the work of French flâneur Eugène Atget, in my urban walks I video-record the emptiness of public spaces. Ironically this emptiness is, among all my works, what enables me to re-experience the past. In this respect I find the reviewing of these stream of videos a sad experience reminding me of life experiences that can never return (Fig. Picture showing me filming a public place while living in Boston. At that time I still did not make use of a smartphones and had to carry around many more devices like a Sanyo video-camera which was more discreet as it allowed to film flipping the screen rather than holding it up. Most importantly however the reviewing of public places of my time in Boston links me to memories of my oldest son. While I avoided to have him or anyone I know in the videos, the emptiness of the public places is filled of memories of the adventurous time I had with him there. As the video of public places ironically become the most intimate of my works, I understood how the human brain, as also suggested by ancient art of memory techniques, allocates a memory per place. The many places I filmed in Boston are for me then a big repertoire of past memories I get too nostalgic to think about).

PLACES 05/12 Over the years I became very much aware of many people's phobia to be filmed. Even though I am interested in the space and not on the actual people, in the decades long work I have been told off several times. One time I was filming in a Jerusalem park and upset an orthodox Jew who broke my camera. Another time I was at a playground in East Berlin and I was told off by kindergarten teachers. In another occasion I was in Amsterdam filming a playground from afar and I was told off by a father who thought I was taking a picture of his kid. On another occasion I was assaulted by a bodyguard of a coffee shop I did not notice when filming a street outside the university library in Utrecht. Beside these accidents, whenever I can, I never point the camera at people if they are coming my way, rather I wait for people to leave (Fig. Screenshot of a public space I found exploring some ancient ruins in the near of Jerusalem. While my intention was to film the space an orthodox Jew looks at me most upset. In these rare case I have to explain that it is the place that I am interested on and that anyway the people that happen to be in the video are hardly recognizable. The discrimination seems here inverted especially under the dogmatic eyes of those who have something to hide like the patriarch way they deal with their family members).

PLACES 06/12 The cities in which I have filmed the most public places are Stockholm, Shanghai, Boston, Venice and Amsterdam. These cities are all in the near of the sea and might one day cease to exist if the water level keeps rising. As George Steeves writes about August Sander: "Sander’s premonitions of calamitous adversity, triggered by his reading of the signs all about him, impelled him to alter the emphasis of his photographic practice. The collecting for People of the 20th Century slowed while landscape and architectural work accelerated. Sander had been assembling cityscapes and architectural details of his adopted home of Cologne since 1920. In the last years of the 1930s he assiduously pursued his aesthetic convictions in photographs of the city. Could he have apprehended its approaching near total destruction?" (Fig. Screenshot of a video shot in Amsterdam. While I have been progressively move away from cities, with the years I have seen them radically transformed. Perhaps they were not literally flooded by the much expected rise of the sea level but by tourists and later pandemics and more human triggered transformations. In this respect it is interesting that I chose a mountain top as the place where ultimately the resulting videos can be viewed).

PLACES 07/12 In the first half of the project I stimulated to document not only time but also space. As a result I spent several years living abroad and moving from one place to another. Later however I have settled in the middle of Europe, taking regular trips to visit my son up North and also taking regular trips down South to look after the project museum. As the chances to travel outside of Europe became less, I have started to film more of the same places. The majority of the films then have been shot from the same locations. Whether on the handrail of a bridge, or against an oak tree or on top of a garbage bin I now have some usual spots that when approached I seat on to film. The esceptions are rare and can mostly be determined by terrible weather conditions. This has created a similar aesthetic to that proposed in the 1990s by Wayne Wang in the movie “Smoke”. There the owner of a tobacco shop every morning takes at the same hour a photo of the street outside his shop (Fig. Screenshots of the same place recorded from the same site over the course of a month. These repetitions come to provide some sort of a syntax for the viewer to see certain sequences repeating themselves with slight variations. In the long run these variations are also characterized by the changing of seasons, the changes of the actual architecture and the technical improvements of the cameras I use).

PLACES 08/12 As I became my youngest children were born I no longer traveled around and my filming was done mostly in and around the city of Culemborg in the middle of the Netherlands. Given the pristine medieval town, the river, the canals and the agricultural landscape of this area, I have in the later part of my work become more like a traditional 16th century Dutch painter. Several in fact were the landscape painters active in the region. Jan Weissenbruch for example painted the same spots I have been filming consistently during my years living the region. Unlike the Dutch painter however I depict the spaces while on the move often bringing my kids along. In this respect I have extensively took several videos from the exact same locations overtime. Some locations have been denied to me for example outside the barber shop of an Arab. I used to seat on the metal pole standing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of his shop. From there I had a good view of the historical part of town and I sat there to film every time I passed by it. At one point however the shop owner got suspicious. As I could not explain myself in Dutch he got angry and I no longer dared to film from that location even after the shop have closed down (Fig. Close-up of a 19th century painting of the very Dutch city I have so much depict through the years during my time spent babysitting my young children there).

PLACES 09/12 Interestingly also the recording of public spaces in the Gelderland region of the Netherlands promotes somewhat a more authentic type of filming than that executed by popular cities contaminated by tourism and completely gentrified and over-represented. In the small Dutch city over the years I have experienced a strong economic recession with most of the shops of the city center closing down. The fatal blow came in 2020 with the restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic. During this time I kept walking around with my kids and exploring places. Due to the pandemic however I changed my routines attempting to keep at regular distant from people and mostly heading to nature and less to the city itself. Also being a migrant with no health insurance I got more aware of public spaces and social distancing (Fig. Screenshot of a usual video I took during the time of the pandemic. Then I mostly brought my kids to the nearby river. Not only I stayed away from the city but sought in the Dutch nature the ultimate vanishing point, literally the setting sun and the perspective created by its linear reflection on the water. This element is missing in the actual presentation of this work within the project museum in the alps but is described in the way I thought the ideal exhibition to be, namely on a long axis directed to the setting sun).

PLACES 10/12 To begin with I started filming with a Sanyo video-camera which had the great feature of a flippable screen. This screen allowed me not to look in the direction of the space. I kept looking at the screen facing downward and this made the filming more discreet. Later I started recording with compact cameras which I had to held up as the screen was fixed in the back. Meantime I also exeprimented filming with smartphones but the first ones I owned had no video stabilizing feature. As later ones became more advance I began filming with them thus reducing the amount of equipment I have to carry around. With newer smartphones however it got no longer possible to film using the VGA 640 by 480 pixels resolution I adopted from the beginning of the project. As also the 4:3 aspect ratio became obsolete I used Open Camera, a free application which allowed me to film with such ratio but at a higher format. Using this application however I started getting issues to stabilize the first second of a video. As a result I have to crop the resulting videos running an ffmpeg scirpt. Also using Open Camera I have set the standard recording time and I only have to press the start of the recording. In the application a crosshair is enabled to center the camera on the vanishing point of a place (Fig. Screenshot filming with my early camera entering a church in my usual traversing of Stockholm).

PLACES 11/12 Oftentimes I do not seat where the urban furnitures suggest me to seat. Having become very aware of the vanishing point of places, it is seldom that I find a public bench nicely located in front of a vanishing point. While it is more likely to find such configurations in the Italian piazza where I would seat against a column or a monument to film the vanishing point, or in Chinese gardens where different itineraries bring to new views and perspectives, ultimately I prefer seating where I am not supposed to like on trash bins that may be often dirty, on fences and generally on the ground especially when in a more natural landscape. At times I also kneel, for example facing the great perspective of a temple but in this case I also keep my butts on the ground so as to simulate a seating. This work then is also a critic on modern urban design in which furnitures are positioned with only pragmatic parameters in mind. With my filming practice I could easily serve a community to point out the best location where benches should be placed (Fig. Picture taken by my traveling buddy on a journey across southern India. Avoiding any tourist destination we ended up in more spiritual and peripheral sites like a tiny farmer village in the near of Tiruvannamali. We paid a visit to the temple only to get money out of an ATM during a catastrophic digitization of the currency imposed by the government).

PLACES 12/12 In an ideal exhibition setting the screen the resulting videos of public places is positioned at the end of a corridor which is meant to physically extend the vanishing point. Right the long perspective required by this part of the project has conditioned the entire set up of this ideal place which in a way made me conceive the other parts. The videos are meant to be played by a giant 4,8 by 3,6 meters screen acting somewhat like an altar but most importantly allowing the viewers of the place to be sucked right in the actual videos and their vanishing points. While this screen could be recreated using 640 by 480 RGB LED lights, also the benches distributed on both sides of the main corridor comprise of 432 cubic seats each of which could trigger by seating a different month of videos of public places (Fig. Screenshot of the ideal exhibition where the giant screen reproducing the videos of public spaces captured in a life time is red highlighted. The setting resembles somewhat a cinema but it would take a person at least nine days to watch through the videos. Also the videos have no sound which allows interesting overlapping of other audio from the more acoustic works of the project. In addition to it the mist that is produced by the smoke machine to simulate the air quality I have experienced comes as an interesting interference to the videos of places as if it was smog in a city or fog in a field).